Otherizing and Futilizing

Are you stuck “otherizing” and “futilizing?” Don’t know those words? They are words I’ve invented to mean the act of holding others distant and different resulting in a lack of empathy or concern (otherizing) and continuing to take no action believing one’s individual action cannot make a difference (futilizing).

I was attending an MLK day event on Monday. While listening to the speaker I was conducting some impressive futilizing in my head. What have I done to make a difference? What can I do? After all there will never be a TEG day fifty years from now like there’s an MLK day. King was 39 when assassinated, and look what his short life stood for and accomplished. I’m pushing 52 (pretty hard), and what can I possibly do that will matter? Oh, woe is me, right? Plus TEG day just sounds stupid.

When I stopped gazing at my own navel and looked around this room full of individuals, I saw some influential (or at least vocal in the local community) individuals, but mostly other anonymous (to me and and me to them) regular community members. If we all otherwize and futilize, then we are certainly doomed to render all but those holding the wealth and power in a perpetual state of marginalization. Most of us will have little if any impact on “the world” but we can certainly impact those immediately around us. I think a realistic starting point is to work on our individual and collective empathy. If we can all individually work to build empathy and teach that empathy to others by doing such things as:
– noticing and rejecting stereotypes
– respecting and valuing differences
– widening our circle of concern
– listening closely to others (and “others”)
– managing difficult feelings like sickness, anger, and frustration
– navigating social situations ethically and fairly
(adapted from Making Caring Common Project: https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/resources-for-educators/how-build-empathy-strengthen-school-community)

These all sound nice, but remain abstract ideals until used as a metric to measure one’s daily actions. So maybe pick on and learn more to then prompt action so that you can have an impact on at least one other, and then another, and another…

Maybe learn more about implicit bias. These are links to information and an implicit bias self-assessment from a Harvard project.

Seek other news sources, making yourself aware of potential bias in various news sources. Here’s a couple of media bias charts to get you thinking. Of course, they come from media sources and in and of themselves may include bias.

Learn, practice, and model active listening and how to engage the “other side” productively and with civility.
https://libguides.lmu.edu/fakenews/LeftCenterRight (includes links to some interesting TED talks about how to have civil conversations)

Act purposefully. Take the time to pause and ask yourself, “What then?” If I do this, purchase that, throw away this, say that, what then will happen?

Today, I’m going to dig into the Reunir Project. This is a project initiated by the First Presbyterian Church in Marshfield Wisconsin. They state that “[t]he REUNIR project was developed by the Immigration Action Team, part of the Outreach program at First Presbyterian Church in Marshfield, WI. Our concern is for those children and parents separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. REUNIR means to ‘bring together,’ which is both a Christian and humanitarian aim.” They have created this bracelet to increase awareness and provide a vetted list of agencies assisting children separated from parents and detained at the border. No matter one’s feelings about immigration, if we all had empathy and looked at these children as if they were one our own children, we wouldn’t allow this to occur.

Enough otherizing and futilizing.

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What if We Had This Hope?

What if…
What if the young woman did not fear an unknown attacker?
What if the child did not fear the stranger?
What if the teen did not fear their bullying peer?
What if the black man did not fear the police?
What if the Anishinaabe woman did not fear her abduction?
What if the refugee did not fear those charged with their processing and asylum?
What if the faithful did not fear their God?
What if the bigot did not fear?

We fear what we don’t understand, among other things. I’m not discounting inherent dangers such as heights, or in my case, chit chat. Our society is in a constant state of heightened adrenaline, ready to fight or take flight, and some of our leaders and media have capitalized on this seizing power and influence. We suffer a lack of empathy, collectively crippling us; this prevents progression through civil conversation, trapping us in a downward spiral of distrust and anger.

What if we tried this. Begin any exchange with another under the assumption they are doing the best that they can. I know, I know, how incredibly (and wondrously) naive. I’m not giving permission to excuse or accept the racism, hate, or general repugnant behavior. Yes, some people are just the shits. But, everyone’s behavior has an origin, and when when I meet someone, I have no idea about their story; their story filters every input their brain absorbs and attaches that experience to a previous memory, coloring the new experience. You cannot separate a person’s present behavior from their life experience. Again, this is not to excuse being an ass.

I do try and always begin from the premise that we both are bringing their best to the table–even if that best is woefully inadequate for a civil society. So, what does this naivete get me? It provides me a starting point for conversation, though I admit I often don’t see the opportunity due to my own blinders or lack of social skill–but I do work on it. It provides a place for empathy, trust, and even gratitude for their life experience and very existence. While it does not justify behavior causing fear or harm to others, it provides respite from feelings of anger, despair and futility.

This is not altruism or selflessness. I’m also hoping they do the same for me because there is plenty, for which I need grace. This also is not offering pity or a southern “Oh, bless your heart.” We know what that really means. It must be a sincere intent to understand what is at the root of another’s story.

What if you offered grace?
What if we could have difficult conversations and repair this fractured republic?
What if we had this hope?

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I ended 2019 with a (slightly uncharacteristic) post with a positive tone–a simple poem titled blessings. Then I took a week off and tried not to get mired down in current events and enjoyed the return of my children to the nest for a couple weeks.

Meanwhile…Monday morning I ready this headline in the New York Times: “Why Are Young Americans Killing Themselves?” The teenage suicide rate jumped 56% between 2007 and 2017 and is now the second leading cause of death among young people. I don’t expect it has declined in the last two years. The rate of teen depression increased 63% during that same time. We have a serious problem here. You don’t have to spend much time in a school to feel the anxiety that is an all-too-constant state among our children. I fear we are in danger of losing a generation.

Meanwhile…Australia is on fire. Walking the dog yesterday at sunset, I noticed the orange of the sunset (in the east). Hmmm. I can’t believe that it is smoke from Australia, as I would think it would take much longer for smoke to cross from the Southern to the Northern hemisphere, but I’m unaware of other sources of atmospheric particulate pollution that could be causing the sky to appear orange in all directions at sunset (and then again sunrise this morning). Maybe I should quit walking the dog.

Meanwhile…Beltrami county commissioners voted 3-2 to not allow refugee resettlement in the county under an executive order from President Trump that places the decision in the hands of local governments. Do I need to point out that Beltrami county has a significant indigenous Anishinaabe population and that it’s safe to say that the county commissioners and all those in attendance cheering the vote are most likely descendants of immigrants that took the land from the Anishinaabe.

Meanwhile…we are marching towards war with Iran one tweet at a time. We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This is the world we have made for ourselves. Are we satisfied with this path we are walking? I’m not. I think we can enact a different story for ourselves.

Posted in Edumusings


Snow crunches beneath my feet
and I think of you.
I wonder where our lives
converged, diverged, got lost
and found again.
Crisp winter air fills my lungs and clears
my head of thoughts of myself
and my worries.
In the space freed of worry, I realize
I am blessed.
Then, I think of you.
Those who loved me into being,
teaching me grace, mercy,
empathy, and love.
No matter if we’ve recently spoken
or only exchanged cards, posts, tweets, or likes,
I think of you and I am blessed.
As are you.

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The Decline of Self-Governance

This is a famous quote attributed to Ronald Reagan.

And so began our decline in terms of governance “of the people, by the people, for the people.” For a country to be strong there has to be community; community is strongest when it is built around a common purpose, shared ideals, and agreed upon social contract.

I’m sure you can go back further in presidential politics to find equally important examples of turning points of erosion of the ideal: of the people, by the people, for the people, say to Johnson and the Vietnam war or Nixon acting above the law, but Reagan’s campaign and presidency stand out for me because I don’t think we’ve recovered yet from that turning point. It was part of an orchestrated plan to sow distrust of government by denigrating the operation of government for the express purpose of acquiring positions of power within the government.

The campaign strategy was simple: find an issue that a block of voters care deeply about, align yourself with it, and then demonize opposition to it, and they will have no choice but to support your for that single issue. This is the calculated strategy of the Republican party in the late 70s with regard to reproductive rights. This was not an ideological stance taken by the republican party. It was a political strategy to capture the conservative Christian voting block (away from, ironically, a devout evangelical Christian in Jimmy Carter). It worked and is still working. The Republican party has also done it with gun rights (used to support gun control), immigration, global warming, foreign policy/trade and now I think there are targeted efforts to divide people politically over smaller issue like bike riding. I’m not kidding (as biking instead of driving is an acknowledgement of larger environmental issues, and concern about environmental issues is decidedly not a Republican platform). We’ve reached the zero-sum game of politics in this country. There is no room for compromise or negotiation; it’s either win or lose.

The result of this has been a division of our national community–which a tenuous alliance of many different tribes/nations from the beginning. A community made up of people fleeing somewhere else, built with slave labor, and on conquered territory is a difficult starting point building community. But, largely, this was done utilizing the creation of a republic built on the foundation of the constitution holding above all else, the ideals of self-governance, of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Which brings me to my point about Reagan and the modern GOP. He began tearing at that shared goal with that above statement because it demonized our own government (which is us). Now this would be alright if the modern GOP actually wanted to do what the framers allowed for by providing a right of the people to overthrow an oppressive government and return it to the people. This wasn’t the end goal however. The end goal was to utilize the current system to enrich and concentrate wealth with those who have gained control, capitalize on the system to remove power from the people, and finally concentrate the power with those with possessing wealth. Zero-sum game. You either win or lose. This has created a system which is in a positive feedback loop. The wealth is concentrated among a small portion of the population, who use that money to gain power and control within the government and then utilize that position of power further advancing the interests of the increasing smaller segment of the population holding the wealth. This is not a stable system.

Capitalizing on disillusionment while concentrating wealth is how to build an oligarchy secretly while telling the people you are fighting for their individual rights, all the while restricting their right for a common pursuit of happiness, by restricting the power of their voice and vote. It was brilliant. It is also downright diabolical because and is also patently unAmerican, tearing at the fabric of our constitution–our social contract. Further degradation of the concept of true self-governance by the continued destruction of free and fair elections will destroy what is left of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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Art has Superpowers

Have you seen the video of President Trump as Thanos released on the Trump campaign twitter account, @TrumpWarRoom?

My first reaction was this was created by a team only after the simplest comparison between the two–he is powerful and victory is inevitable (disregarding Thanos is a villian so ultimately is defeated). But, actually, I fear that the developers knew full well the deeper message.

In the Avengers movies, Thanos is initially a somewhat sympathetic character. He recognizes that continued growth of the universe population and continued use of natural resources is unsustainable. I concur. All sympathy evaporates (say in a cloud of black dust at the snap of a fingers) when we learn his solution is to accumulate the necessary power (doesn’t matter how) so he can literally snap his fingers and instantly eliminate half of all human (and other sentient species) from existence, thus solving the looming environmental crisis. We’ll set aside that this doesn’t actually solve anything, just delays it. To make a long story short, in part one he succeeds with his mission and then five years later in part two the Avengers find a way to defeat Thanos and restore those who were previously “snapped” away by Thanos.

Thanos considered himself chosen to undertake this horrific task to save the universe from itself. He alone could and must do it. At the 2016 GOP nomination convention this is how Donal Trump presented himself, that “I alone can fix it.” Thanos considers himself chosen by destiny for this awesome responsibility. This is how President Trump’s most vocal supporters are now speaking of him–as a chosen vesicle (imperfect as he may be) by God. I don’t think they actually believe this, but are using this to keep the evangelical Christian voting block in line, which might be worse.

Thanos is willing to sacrifice his own (adopted) daughter for his cause. Ok, that one doesn’t work, but Thanos is willing to do anything to accumulate the power needed to achieve his goal. It appears that the entirety of the GOP is willing to allow this president to place himself above precedent, laws, and obstruct accountability from a co-equal branch of government to win an election and maintain power. By acquiescing, they are signalling that the use of donations, influence, voter suppression, misinformation, etc. from foreign powers is now acceptable. This will call into question the legitimacy of any future presidential election.

And then we get to the simplistic interpretation. Trump snaps his fingers and members of a co-equal branch of government opposing his actions literally disappear. This is chilling and horrifying. This is the stuff of a self-aggrandizing dictator who is willing to prosecute, lock up, or make political rivals disappear. Donald Trump claimed he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.” Apparently his campaign believes this and is also okay with it. The ends justify the means. Except the don’t. Ever.

This is the power of art. Even when it might not be the intended message of the artist. The art speaks for itself. It’s so powerful that I have a hard time believing that it wasn’t produced as satire by Saturday Night Live or a Democratic presidential campaign.

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It's a Neighborly Day in the Beautywood

At the urging of a friend, Tracy and I went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood last night. This movie is actually not a biopic about Fred Rogers. It is more about an Esquire reporter, identified with the pseudonym Lloyd Vogel in the movie, assigned to write the biography of Fred Rogers for an issue of the magazine. Lloyd is filled with anger toward his father. The movie is really about that reporter’s struggle with his anger, and how Fred Rogers helped him get past that crippling anger. It is a movie about forgiveness, grace, and mercy. It is about us. I show the interplay between these concepts in the Venn diagram below.

I believe these concepts are necessary aspects of love as a verb. If we cannot do these things, then I don’t know that we can truly love one another. That leaves us just with anger.

During a scene in which Fred and Lloyd are continuing the interview in a restaurant, Fred asks Lloyd if he’d do an exercise with him: sit in silence for one minute and think about those who have “loved you into being.”  He resists, but Fred proceeds anyway. As all other patrons and Lloyd fall silent, the camera moves subtly so that Tom Hanks is looking directly into the camera, breaking the fourth wall between actor and viewer, thus inviting viewers into the exercise. We could all benefit from doing this and letting go of our anger towards one another.

I leave you with two songs. The first is one of mine and about a character seeking forgiveness. The other is a Mary Gauthier song, Mercy Now. We could all use a littler mercy now.

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